This is it, the final chapter in this exceedingly lengthy story. It has taken me about two and a half years to write this fic. Can you believe it? I apologize for the delay with this update. It took me a while to work out the ending of this story. Even now I am not convinced that it's perfect but I'm hoping my readers will enjoy the closer I've finally been able to bring to this story.


Stripped Bare- Chapter 26

Sakura could hardly believe she was staring at Konoha's familiar green gates. It seemed like ages since she had seen her home, and now she was finally here.

The trip home had been long but uneventful, and she enjoyed the company of the four other ninja who had come to her rescue. Naruto's constant chatter made her laugh despite her weariness, and the presence of the others meant she didn't have talk to Kakashi or even walk near him. She stayed more towards the front of the party while he brought up the rear, and though it pained her that he ignored her most of the time, she figured it was better than being alone with him in an unbearably tense atmosphere.

She longed to talk with her former sensei before they entered Konoha and he disappeared from her life, but she didn't know what to say and he made no effort to start a conversation. She supposed she wouldn't have been able to endure being brushed off by him anyway. Instead, she turned to Naruto and Yamato for conversation since Sai was as inept as always and Sasuke remained his quiet, brooding self.

As their party entered the village, Izumo and Kotetsu greeted them. The two had been assigned the job of gate keepers for as long as Sakura could remember. She wondered if they ever got to go out and take missions anymore.

Now that she was home at last, all she wanted to do was go back to her quiet apartment, take a hot shower and collapse into bed and sleep for a week. Maybe when she woke up, she would forget all about her love for her former sensei. Or maybe he would even be in bed next to her when she opened her eyes, his own hot with passion as he confessed that he in fact did love her and he was ready to keep her in bed all day to show her just how much.

Sakura shook her head, clearing away the thoughts. Now was no time for daydreaming. She had to report to the Hokage and explain what had turned a supposedly simple mission into an extremely long absence. The kunoichi had no intention of telling Tsunade every juicy detail of her experiences in Fuzen Machi. In fact, she planned on leaving out the whole part where she slept with her sensei in his motel room. And in his shower. And in the hallway. She probably should have talked it out with Kakashi first to make sure their stories lined up but it was too late for that now. Since he was technically the superior on this mission, he had to write the report anyway. She supposed he would do some editing of his own because she doubted he'd confess to the most powerful woman in Konoha that he had deflowered the woman who had been her protégé for several years now. Sakura decided the smartest thing to do would be to keep her mouth shut and let Kakashi do the explaining.

Everything was just as she remembered it. The main street was bustling as midmorning shoppers examined goods for sale. The savory smells of fresh baked pastries and street vendor's wares filled the air. Inside the Hokage tower, these scents were replaced with those of old books and coffee. All six shinobi marched up the stairs single file, and she found herself directly behind Yamato who was leading the bunch. Kakashi was second to last with Sasuke trailing behind. They were all silent except for Naruto, who didn't know the meaning of the word. The enthusiastic blonde didn't seem to mind that he was basically having a conversation with himself because everyone else was to tired to respond to anything he said.

The spiraling staircase held the same amount of stairs it always had, and Sakura could remember all too well running up and down these steps while under the tutelage of the Fifth. It was comforting to see that her home had remained unchanged while she was gone, which was more than she could say about herself.

As they marched down the final hall to Tsunade's office, the door opened and Shizune walked out carrying a stack of papers. When she saw Sakura, her dark eyes grew wide and she dropped her load of documents to the ground. The pink haired shinobi barely had time to murmur a greeting before she was swept up in her friend's arms, the breath practically squeezed out of her as the Hokage's assistant delivered a hug that seemed far stronger than what her slender arms could deliver.

"You're back! You're home! We were so worried about you!" Shizune cried, tears of joy forming as she crushed the smaller woman to her chest.

While Sakura had hoped people would be happy to see her again after so long, she hadn't expected this kind of welcome, especially from Shizune who was normally quite composed.

"We saved her and brought her home!" Naruto said, puffing up his chest with pride.

Sai and Yamato didn't respond while Sasuke rolled his eyes. Kakashi let them have a moment before subtly cleared his throat, causing Shizune to look up from her friend.

"I believe the Hokage is expecting us," the Copy nin said.

"Oh, yes. Yes, of course," she said, looking back to Sakura and seeming reluctant to let her go. Finally she stepped aside and gave a slight bow, gesturing for them to enter the office before she went about gathering up the papers that she had just scattered everywhere.

The group entered, the office seeming much smaller and cramped with six extra bodies. Tsunade was on her feet behind her desk, her honey colored eyes scanning each face in the room but lingering especially long on both Kakashi and her apprentice. While her face was carefully arranged in a neutral expression, her glimmering eyes betrayed her joy and relief that all of her shinobi had returned home safely.

"It's good to see you all back home, even if some of you are a little late," she said, allowing a small smile to form on her lips. "According to the update I received from Yamato, am I correct in my understanding that it was the client himself responsible for the disappearance of the very girls you were sent to find?"

"Yes, Hokage-sama," Kakashi replied with a nod of his head. "It was actually the kunoichi sent on this mission that he was after. We inadvertently stumbled into a slave trading operation that has been effectively neutralized."

Tsunade nodded slowly, no doubt considering the alternate outcomes this mission could have had and how lucky she was to get everyone back in one piece. "I look forward to reading your mission report Kakashi. I trust you will explain everything then."

She shifted her attention to Yamato, instructing him to do the same in his own report.

"You four," she said, her gaze moving over the secondary team. "Thank you for bringing these two home. You've done an excellent job. You are dismissed."

Three brunette heads nodded and turned to leave, but Naruto had never been one to take orders well.

"Hey Sakura-chan, let's go to Ichiraku when you're done. There's this new ramen there that-"

Yamato grabbed him by the arm and began to drag him firmly towards the door.

"Let Sakura have some time to herself," he said gruffly. "She's probably tired."

"Aw, but Taicho, I haven't seen her in forever and-"

The last thing Sakura glimpsed before the door swung shut was Yamato making his trademark scary face. However, he had needed to use it on Naruto so many times in the past that it had lost its effect. The Kyuubi container's whining continued as he was dragged down the hall.

"Now," Tsunade said, sitting down in her chair and steepling her fingers on top of her wooden desk. "I know you're both very tired so I won't keep you long. I am very glad you are both home but the fact that you were gone so long without so much as a single check-in is intolerable. Kakashi, you should know better."

He nodded in agreement.

"Yes, Hokage-sama. I'm the one to blame. I intended to have the update sent to you by mail and entrusted the letter to our employer. I didn't know at the time he was the enemy and apparently he never sent it at all."

The blond regarded him for a moment. "I see. Ordinarily this would call for some form of punishment, but in this case you're lack of care ended up saving your ass. If I had received an update, I probably would not have sent a team after you. Consider this your lucky day, Hatake."

Kakashi said nothing.

"Well," Tsunade said with a sigh. "I'm sure most of my questions will be answered in the report. Sakura, since it was you who saw the most action on this mission, I'd like you to write a mission report as well. You have a week to have it on my desk."

The kunoichi, relieved that Tsunade would know only what she decided to disclose, but annoyed that she now had an assignment to do.

"I will give you a full two weeks off before scheduling you at the hospital," the Hokage stated. "And Kakashi, you will have the same amount of time before I begin considering you for missions again."

She exhaled slowly, giving each of them a once over before finally nodding her head in satisfaction. "Despite the mishaps that happened along the way, the two of you did very well. Kakashi, you are dismissed."

The Copy nin bowed politely and thanked the buxom blonde before promptly leaving the office. Sakura hoped that perhaps he would wait for her, but she could sense his chakra signature diminish as he walked farther and farther away. He didn't pause, didn't even slow down as he exited the building. The knowledge was disheartening.

Tsunade's honey-brown eyes turned critical as she examined her student once more. "You look different," she finally said.

"I look like hell," Sakura replied, sounding every bit as tired as she felt.

The Hokage smiled and stepped out from behind her desk and to Sakura's surprise, embraced her tightly. Tsunade wasn't known for being openly affectionate.

"I was very worried about you," the older kunoichi said softly. "Sakura Haruno, if you scare me like that again, I swear that I'll make you regret it."

The pink haired medic smiled at the threat as Tsunade released her from her arms and stepped back to regard her again. "You look different," she repeated, "In the sense that this mission has done something to you. It's changed you. Every now and then an assignment comes along that forces us to change, to cope, to alter ourselves in order to survive. I know I asked a lot of you in this mission and I can see that you've grown. This experience has matured you, made you wiser."

Sakura could only stare wide eyed at her mentor's astute comment. She was afraid to ask just how much Tsunade had gleaned just by looking at her. Had she already guessed that intimate bonds had been made and broken between her former sensei and herself? Could she tell a rape victim when she saw one? Even if she already could guess it, Sakura did not want to retell it in her own words. Saying aloud that she had loved and lost Kakashi would somehow make it more true, would set it in stone where it would become unchangeable. And what if Tsunade didn't know at all? She didn't want to have to explain that Kakashi had taken her virginity.

Sakura remained silent a long moment, unsure of what to say. Tsunade finally broke the silence. "You can always talk to me about anything if you need to, or if you want, one of the councilors that help shinobi deal with post traumatic stress."

Sakura, of course, knew of such procedures. She worked in the very hospital where therapy sessions were held. Telling her story to them was even less appealing than talking to the Fifth. She plastered a smile on her face, hoping it looked at least somewhat genuine. "Thank you, Hokage-sama, but I'm fine. I promise."

Tsunade stared at her hard and for a moment. Sakura thought she was going to protest, but finally the Hokage nodded and gave her a smile. "It's good to have you home. Do yourself a favor and get some rest during your time off."

Sakura promised that she would and thanked the Hokage as she was dismissed. She walked down the hall, down the stairs, and out the door. Kakashi was nowhere to be seen.

The sun was shining and the day was warm, weather that was almost foreign to her now after being surrounded by grey clouds and rain for so long. Her mood didn't match the sunshine. She was achy, exhausted, and above all, heartbroken. It seemed almost unfair that the day be so beautiful when she was feeling so miserable. She took to the rooftops, hoping to avoid people on the streets who might recognize her and want to hear all about why she had been gone for so long. She didn't want to talk to anybody. She just wanted to go home.

Fortunately, her apartment was not far away. She managed to get to her door and slip the key into the lock without meeting anybody she knew. She let herself into her apartment, suddenly surrounded by her familiar belongings. Her house smelled the same, although a bit musty after being closed up for so long. Her furniture was exactly the same. Her kitchen had been untouched. The single mug and dish she had used the day she had left were still sitting on the drying rack, waiting for her return.

It suddenly hit her that there had been a very real danger of her never returning to this place, of never seeing her couch and table and plate and coffee mug. She had been gone for so long and might have never come back, and the man who had saved her, who had captured her heart, could never be anything more than that. Overwhelmed by grief and joy and exhaustion, she let her pack fall to the floor with a thud as she sank to her knees in the middle of the living room. The tears came all at once in a flood she could not control. Sobs wracked her body and sounded unnaturally loud in the quiet of her own home. She cried and cried, unsure if her tears were those of joy for coming home, of sadness for losing Kakashi, or both or neither. Her throat felt tight and her eyes puffy. She could taste the salt of her tears and still they continued to flow. She cried until she felt empty inside, a mere shell, a husk of a person that would blow away in the breeze.

After a time she managed to get to her feet and staggered to the bedroom on wobbly legs. She no longer felt like taking a shower. She no longer felt like being conscious. She was just too overwhelmed and could no longer endure. She peeled back the covers, collapsed into bed and pulled them up over herself. Her last coherent thought was she hoped she could sleep and sleep and never wake up.


Now that Kakashi was finally back in Konoha, he didn't know what to do with himself. He certainly didn't feel like interacting with anybody because they were sure to ask about the mission that kept him away for so long. He didn't want to talk about it. He didn't even want to think about it, because that meant reliving the weeks of building lust as he instructed Sakura on her very first lap dance, watched her perform for the first time and offered her a massage that turned into much more. He'd have to remember the euphoria that was unlike any other as he made love to her for the first time, and the second, and the third. He'd have to experience the fear of losing her, the terror of finding her and realizing he might already be too late, and the overwhelming but short lived joy as he got her back, only to realize she would never really be his. The wide spectrum of intense emotions was just too much for him to take. He just wanted to be numb for a while and feel nothing at all.

He left the Hokage tower, hesitating for only a moment as he debated whether or not he should wait for Sakura, but then pushed on, chastising himself for still craving her company. He made his way home and into his apartment. It was just how he had left it, only now everything was covered in a light layer of dust.

He peeled off his clothes and got in the shower, standing under the hot spray until it turned cold. While the warmth eased his muscles and washed the grime from his body, it could not wash away thoughts of Sakura or ease his troubled mind. He got out, toweled off and pulled on a faded pair of black sweat pants. He climbed into bed, intent on spending the rest of the day lazily reading through several Icha Icha novels. A page or two in, he realized his once beloved books had become torture devices. Reading about the act of love inevitably sparked thoughts of Sakura. He couldn't help but long to touch her the way the hero touched his lover in the book. His heart ached at the knowledge that he would never be able to touch Sakura again, that he could never kiss her or hold her or know that for just a moment, he was the center of her universe.

He put down the book and tried to sleep, but his small bed suddenly seemed far too big for just one person. It would be so much cozier with Sakura at his side.

With a groan he rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling, trying to keep his thoughts free of the pink haired medic, but failing. He proceeded to lay there, minutes stretching to hours, until sleep finally claimed him. Even then he could not escape, because his dreams were haunted by her beautiful green eyes.


Sakura awoke and gave a lazy stretch, wincing as sore muscles ached and joints popped. Her eyes fluttered open and took in a room full of sunlight, a room full of familiar belongings, her belongings. She was back in Konoha. Back home. She should have been happy, but instead she could only feel a sense of loneliness. There were no quiet breaths or snores coming from the next bunk over as Misaki and Miyabi slept peacefully. There would no longer be breakfasts filled with laughter as all of the girls tried to squeeze onto uncomfortable wooden benches to share both food and friendship. She already missed her Fuzen Machi friends terribly and wondered what they were up to now that Wet Dreams was permanently shut down.

The medic tugged the covers over her head and groaned, noting that a bird was trilling merrily outside her window. The little ball of feathers had no business being so happy on a day like today, not when she was feeling so miserable. She missed her friends and she missed Kakashi. What made it even worse was that he was right here in the same town. He was a short walk away and yet he might as well be living on the moon because she doubted she would ever get to see much of him ever again, She certainly wouldn't get to feel his strong arms around her or listen to the steady beat of his heart. Their partnership was over and she had to move on just like he had. She just wished she didn't have to endure a shattered heart to do it.

She tried to go back to sleep, but the little bird's solo was soon a quartet as his friends joined in the song. With a grumble, Sakura peeled back the covers and glanced at her clock. It was 10:43. She hadn't even managed to sleep twenty-four hours, let alone a week. All she wanted to do was lay in bed and pretend the world outside didn't exist, but she knew that was impractical. Besides, she had a mission report to work on and if Tsunade received it late, Sakura might find herself faced with something far more painful than the pangs of loneliness.

She tried to muster enthusiasm to greet the day, but only succeeded in kicking the covers off the bed, getting on her feet, and staggering down the hall in a gait that would have put the undead to shame. She made it to the bathroom and tried to avoid looking at herself in the mirror, knowing her haggard, bed-headed reflection would only depress her more. She cranked on the water in the shower and heard the old piped in the wall groan, but not a drop of water came out. Apparently her landlord had been thoughtful enough to turn off the water since she had been away so long.

Sakura's head came to rest against the cold tile wall with a heavy thunk. It appeared the world was against her today. The last thing she wanted to do was go out into public, especially since her hair looked like it had been styled with a blender and her under eye circles probably resembled those of a raccoon. But the allure of a hot soak at the public baths was too tempting. In a few moments, she had tamed her hair as best as she could with a hair tie, pulled on some clean clothes and grabbed her towel, shampoo and comb. As she locked the door to her apartment and walked down the street, her only wish was that she didn't run into anyone she knew.


A blissful sigh escaped her as hot water lapped at alabaster skin. She reclined against the warm rocks and enjoyed the rays of the sun on her face. She had forgotten how wonderful the sunshine could be after living under a constant blanket of rainclouds and smog. The outdoor bath was deserted and she relished the privacy, allowing her body to respond and relax in the natural hot spring.

She was determined not to think about Kakashi, but she found that the more she told herself not to think about him, the more she inadvertently thought of him. She told herself not to think of his soft lips, but then remembered the kisses he would press to the back of her neck. She didn't want to think about his strong arms, but then recalled what it was like to be held by him. And she especially refused to think about the way he made love to her, but she could swear she could still feel the lingering caresses of his fingertips.

With a growl of frustration, Sakura made a fist and punched at the water like a little child throwing a tantrum. Damn Kakashi and his kissable lips and muscular arms! It was so miserably unfair that she couldn't just forget about him and move on. She was in love and she hated it! If she had learned anything from this experience, it was that love was the worst thing that could happen to a girl and it should be avoided at all costs, especially when it involved a sensei who read perverted books and refused to be on time to anything.

"Forehead? Is that you? Why are you splashing around in the hot spring?"

A loud, abrasive and unmistakable voice cut through the air. Sakura knew she should feel bad about dreading seeing someone who was supposed to be her best friend, but right now she really didn't want to deal with Ino. Unfortunately, it was too late to run since the blond had already spotted her and was currently shedding her towel and stepping down into the steaming water right next to her.

"I had heard you got home yesterday. You were gone for such a long time! What happened there? I heard there were complications," she said, turquoise eyes sparkling with curiosity.

The last thing Sakura wanted to talk about was her latest mission, especially to the village's top gossip who would no doubt grill her for all the juicy details. Fortunately, she had the perfect excuse that nearly every shinobi had at their disposal.

"Sorry, Ino. I can't talk about it. It's confidential."

In reality, Sakura was pretty sure it wasn't, but Ino didn't have to know that. One thing was for sure: some of the more intimate details of the mission were going to stay top secret. From everyone. Even Tsunade.

"Oh come on. Please?" Ino whined, her lower lip sticking out in a perfectly practiced pout. The pink haired medic was almost positive that her friend had spent many hours perfecting that wounded look in the mirror. It was now her secret weapon for getting anything she wanted from almost any hot blooded male. Unfortunately for her, it was not going to work on Sakura.

"Nope. I really can't say anything," Sakura lied, trying not to let Ino's grating voice get to her. It was sad really. She had been away for months and she should be overjoyed to see her childhood friend, especially now that she was feeling so lonely. But the blonde's insistent prodding only made Sakura withdraw further.

"Well, at least tell me what it was like working with your old sensei," Ino continued, expressing turning devilish. "I heard you were working undercover as a stripper and that Kakashi actually watched you every night! I don't know whether that's hot or just plain creepy."

Sakura winced as if her words had been a physical blow. Just when something had come along to distract her, the topic was brought up again. It seemed she would never escape Kakashi Hatake, even when he was nowhere in sight.

When Sakura didn't respond, Ino's hopeful expression once again turned to a pout. "Come on, Forehead! At least tell me that much! Did he act like an old pervert, ogling you like he does his books, or was is actually kind of sexy? You know, if Asuma-sensei watched me get naked every night, I think I would-"

Sakura abruptly got to her feet, nearly slipping on the rock as she climbed out of the open air bath with a little less grace than usual. She didn't want to hear about what Ino would do with Asuma-sensei. That was just gross. And she really didn't want to talk about her mission. And she really really didn't want to think about what it had been like undressing in front of her former teacher...both on and off stage.

She mumbled something about being late for some appointment as she snatched up her towel and clothes and made a beeline for the changing room. She could hear Ino calling after her, asking when they were going to hang out and catch up. Sakura replied saying she would contact her later, but at the moment, all Sakura wanted to do was retreat back to her apartment and get away from the noisy, nosey blonde before the gossip somehow figured out Kakashi had been a whole lot more than just her mission partner.


The Copy nin was awake long before the sun rose. He had been awakened by nightmare of Sakura slipping through his fingers. He reached for her as she disappeared into the blackness but he failed to catch her. He tried to go back to sleep but his mind was too full of thoughts of his former student to relax, so he laid awake until his room was flooded with the blue gray light of morning. He was exhausted, but could not sleep, instead passing the time staring at the ceiling and hoping sleep would claim him.

If he let his eyes go out of focus, the bumps and ridges in the textured ceiling melded to form shapes and objects. It was a game he sometimes played when he couldn't sleep, and he would let his imagination take over as tiny patches of light and shadow became animals and people and whatever else he could dream up. However, the game only served to torture him more, because all he could see was Sakura. He saw her face, her eyes, Sakura standing, Sakura crouching, Sakura laughing. He saw the naked curve of her hip, her breasts, flowing strands of her long pink hair. Even when Kakashi shut his eyes tight, the visions remained. She was burned on the back of her eyelids, vibrant and beautiful.

Rather than stay in his apartment and slowly drive himself mad, Kakashi dressed and slipped out onto the street. The village was starting to wake up and there were a few people out and about, but Kakashi paid them no mind as he headed straight past the residential areas and through the main gates towards the training grounds.

His intention wasn't to train or to practice, but to have a long talk with someone he hadn't seen in quite some time. He missed his friend dearly and had longed to talk to him while he was away on the mission. After all that had happened, he had a lot to talk about.

Rather than continue on into the open areas with practice dummies, he went to the right where the foliage was thicker. In a small clearing, was Konoha's memorial for all those who had died in the line of duty. Over the years, Kakashi had watched more and more names be carved into the giant pillar of stone, but there was one name in particular that weighed heavier on his heart than any of the others. It was the name that kept him visiting this place everyday, even if he had somewhere else to be. Calloused fingertips brushed over the name engraved in the smooth marble: Uchiha Obito. Even after all these years, Kakashi could still picture his friend's youthful face and mischievous grin.

"It's been a while, old friend," he said, feeling the guilt bloom in his heart at the thought that Obito in fact never had the chance to grow old. Or to kiss a girl. Or to fall in love. Losing his friend was one of his biggest regrets and seldom a day went by where Kakashi didn't come to pay his respects. But today, he had more to say than a simple hello. "Obito, I wish you were here," he sighed. "I need your advice. I've gone and made such an awful mess of things."


Sasuke had just finished his daily drills and justu practice and was on his way back to the village when he sensed another chakra signature, one he recognized. He was about to approach his sensei and ask if he wanted to spar, but when Kakashi turned away from the training grounds and into the forest, it was clear he wasn't here to train. Curious as to what the Copy nin was up to, Sasuke hid his presence and followed him at a distance, making sure his own chakra signature was masked.

He knew that Kakashi was not only skilled at tracking people by their chakra, but that he had an extremely sensitive nose as well. He made sure to stay downwind of the Jounin and out of sight. He found a hiding place behind a wall of foliage where he could peek through the leaves and observe the silver haired man. When he saw he was simply standing in front of the monument, Sasuke prepared to leave, but then his teacher spoke and arrested his attention. He sounded weary, tormented. Sasuke Uchiha was usually not one to snoop, but Kakashi was a very private man, and a glimpse into his personal life was somehow too tempting to resist.


Kakashi took a deep breath wondering where he should even begin. He felt like he had to confide in somebody before he collapsed under the crushing weight of so many turbulent emotions. He knew Obito was dead and gone, but he still remained his closest friend in the world. And sometimes, in the silent pauses of their one-sided conversations he could swear that he could still feel the young boy's presence. He hoped Obito was near somehow, still with Kakashi in spirit, and listening to what he had to say.

"I've been gone on a mission a long time," Kakashi began. "I was with a former student of mine. I'm sure I've told you about her before. She's the one who always had a crush on my other student. She used to be a bit of a crybaby and was always trailing behind the others. I feel that maybe I didn't give her the attention she deserved when I was her teacher."

He couldn't help but smile at the thought of Team Seven when they were younger. They had been such a handful. Always fighting, but so full of talent and hope and promise. He just wished he had seen Sakura's potential sooner.

"I didn't have much hope for her then," he continued as he shoved his hands in his pockets. "But Obito, you should see the way she shines. She's grown and blossomed. She's a hell of a shinobi and one of the best medics around. If Rin had gotten the chance to grow up, they might have been similar."

Kakashi took another deep breath as a fresh wave of guilt washed over him at the though of the third member of his first team, another life he couldn't save. But now was not the time to dwell on Rin. He had already had countless conversations with Obito here at the monument where he poured out his regrets at losing her as well. Now, there was another woman in his life causing him anguish.

"The thing is, she's no longer a little girl. She's a woman...a damned beautiful woman, and I never noticed it until now. This mission put her in a new light and one thing led to another. Obito...I slept with her, and I was her first. I had no right to take that away from her but I did. Kami help me, every time I was with her, it was the best sex I ever had. But it's not about the sex. It's about her. How perfect she is and how in those moments I feel like I have something to live for again. Obito, I...I love her. I didn't think I was even capable of love anymore but I do...I do, so much."

Kakashi's heart clenched as the vision of her smiling face filled his mind. He honestly didn't know whether to consider his time with Sakura a blessing or a curse. He had been able to spend a few precious months with her where he was reminded what it was like not just to exist, but to truly live. However, now that she was gone, the world was darker than it had ever been, and though she lived in the same village, she would never be his, and the thought ate away at him.

This was the first time he had confessed his love for her out loud, and saying it somehow made it more real, confirmed it. It was no longer possible to deny his feelings. He just wished Obito could respond with an answer, some helpful insight on what to do next. But Kakashi already knew what he had to do, though his heart felt heavy at the mere thought of it.

"I love her, but she doesn't feel the same. I can't tell her how I feel and burden her like that. It's better that she doesn't know, that nobody knows. It's going to kill me inside, keeping it to myself every time I see her, but it's better this way. That's the price an old man like me has to pay for falling for a student. I really thought I was smarter than this."

He sighed again, lifting a hand to brush over the engraved kanji that spelt out his friend's name. "Sometimes I feel like you're the lucky one, Obito. You never had to deal with heartbreak like this. I'm sure life gets a lot easier when you're no longer living it."

He let his hand drop and regarded the monument for a few silent moments. He was hoping talking it over with his friend would ease the hurt, even a little, but his heart still ached with a pain he'd never known.

After another long moment, he put his hand back in his pocket as he spoke. "Thanks for listening, friend. I'll let you know how it all turns out, although I'm pretty sure I already know the answer to that."

Kakashi turned away and walked back the way he had come. His bad posture was worse than usual, as if he was trudging back to the village with the entire weight of the world upon him.


Sasuke remained hidden for several minutes after Kakashi had disappeared from view. Once he was sure he wouldn't be detected, he stopped repressing his chakra and let out a breath he hadn't realized he had been holding.

When he had followed Kakashi, he wasn't sure what he was going to discover, but his gut had told him that his sensei would do something interesting since he thought he was all alone. Maybe the Uchiha had been hoping for a peek at what was beneath that infernal mask. Whatever it was, he certainly hadn't expected Kakashi to confess his love for his former student.

Sasuke had seen proof of Sakura's feelings for the Jounin in her behavior and he suspected Kakashi cared for her as well. He hadn't expected such profound feelings from a man that was usually so calm, but Kakashi had made it clear how much he loved Sakura and how much it was eating away at him. His love interest couldn't possibly know how he felt or she would have acted upon her own feelings, knowing they were reciprocated. If she ever found out that Kakashi was madly in love with her, she would no doubt make a move.

The knowledge spurred a new sense of urgency into Sasuke's pursuit of the girl he had spent his entire childhood trying to ignore. Sakura had always been available, waiting for him, hanging on his every word, and now she loved someone else. For some reason, Sasuke was quite bothered by that knowledge, especially now that the kunoichi had blossomed. She was sexy, but she was also a mystery, a puzzle he wanted to solve. It had been easy to dissect her younger self, to see what made her tick. She was weak of both body and mind, a poor excuse for a shinobi. But now she was not only an exceptional medic, but was strong, smart and alluring.

Visions of her spiraling down the silvery pole as she danced filled his mind. He wanted to lock her up in his bedroom and have her give him a private show. He wanted to put all that flexibility and stamina of hers to good use. The urge was even stronger now that he knew Kakashi has sampled the forbidden fruit on several occasions and deemed it the best he had ever experienced.

He had to make Sakura his before she realized a future with Kakashi was possible. The more he thought about the desirable creature she had become, the more he wanted her in his bed. He was fairly certain she would fall back in love with him again. How could she not after chasing him all those years? She would then become the key to the rebuilding of his clan. He had no doubt her offspring would be powerful just like her, especially if they shared her talent of chakra control.

Kakashi had said he would keep his feelings to himself, but Sasuke didn't want to take any chances. He had to claim his prize and he had to do it soon. He would not let Kakashi steal her away.


Sakura finished the last sentence of her twenty-seven page mission report before settling back in her chair with a groan. She hated writing these stupid things. It was a big reason she never asked to be in charge on the few missions she still went on. Having to write a medic report was bad enough. Hell, she didn't even like filling out patient's charts at the hospital.

She would return to work tomorrow, despite Tsunade's advice to take more time off. The pink haired kunoichi figured it would be better to bury herself in her work rather than drift around the house and slowly go insane.

It had been a week since she had returned from her mission but adjusting to normal life had not gotten any easier, mostly because it was a life without Kakashi. She had only seen him twice since her return: once through the window of the village bookstore and once at the training grounds. They had arranged to meet there, pretending they were going to spar when really it was so they could get their stories straight for the mission reports. They had agreed they would leave out the numerous times when they had sex but include his erotic lesson at the inn as well as a more toned down version of her practice lap dance at the club.

Though she didn't want to, Sakura knew she would have to include her encounter with Koudo and explain the rape in detail. Reliving it to write it down would be difficult and it would no doubt send Tsunade into a whirlwind of anger and worry, especially since Sakura hadn't admitted it upon first returning. Counseling would be ordered and months of needless therapy would follow, especially since the Hokage would assume that the enemy stole her virginity.

The experience had left its mark. She had awoken three times this week drenched in a cold sweat as vivid nightmares robbed her of sleep. She could still feel Koudo's touch, still see his piercing yellow eyes. In her dreams he was holding her down, violating her, and despite all her kunoichi strength and training, there was nothing she could do. Sometimes physical touch frightened her, like when Naruto trapped her in one of his suffocating hugs. She had to fight the urge to push him away and run. However, thanks to Kakashi, she knew that sex could be wonderful, that desire and passion could be felt of your own free will. She knew what it was like to have someone worship her body and concentrate on gently giving her everything she needed until she reached an earth shattering release. She should thank him for that, because it was what kept her from swearing off sex altogether.

However, when she met with Kakashi for a brief time at the training grounds, he seemed in a rush to leave. He would hardly even look at her, as if there was somewhere else he desperately wanted to be. She miserably thought to herself that he was probably anxious to go read his little orange book somewhere since his written porn was obviously better than anything she could provide. They had hurriedly talked out the details of their reports before he had made the hand signs for a teleportation jutsu and disappeared in a puff of smoke. Sakura had tearfully returned to her home, angry at herself for allowing high hopes and schoolgirl giddiness at the prospect of seeing Kakashi again. He clearly wasn't interested. What was it going to take to get that fact through her head?

She really didn't feel like talking to anyone. She wanted to stay curled up into a corner where she could cry and blubber to her hearts content, but she had been doing that since she had returned home and it was starting to get old. So when Naruto showed up at her door to invite her to dinner with Sasuke and Sai, she pushed away her initial inclination to decline and agreed to meet them at the restaurant in a few hours.


She arrived at Yakiniku Q to find it packed by the dinner crowd. Fortunately, the rest of her former team had already arrived and had been seated at one of the booths. Sai and Naruto were on one side, so she took the empty seat next to Sasuke.

Naruto immediately started chatting away while Sai smiled politely. Sakura spoke only when spoken to and Sasuke didn't say much at all, but she supposed that was normal. She was thankful that the blonde didn't bring up her recent mission at all, preferring instead to fill her in on all the shenanigans that had happened during her absence, and since the Kyuubi vessel was prone to mischief, he had a long list of stories to tell.

Somewhere in between his rambling, a waitress brought them tea and took their order. Sakura had been so distracted by thoughts of Kakashi that she hadn't even looked over the menu, even though she had been staring at it. She picked something at random and settled back in her chair, feeling bad for not being mentally present with her friends, but was unable to make herself focus.

"Hello? Sakura?" Naruto said, a puzzled frown clouding his normally sunny features. She realized he had asked her a question and was expected a response. Unfortunately she hadn't heard a word he'd said for the past five minutes.

"Huh? What were we talking about?" she replied, a blush staining her cheeks as she was forced to reveal how inattentive she was being.

"Sakura-chan, you've been acting weird," Naruto said, eyebrows furrowed with concern. "Ever since you got back from your last mission you've been really..."

He paused, trying to think of the right word.

"Spacey?" Sai supplied helpfully.

"Yeah! You've been spacey. What's up with you?"

Sakura realized all eyes at the table were fixed intently on her. She swallowed hard. To tell them the truth would mean telling them about her affair with Kakashi. That was simply not an option so she opted for a half truth, something that was true, but it was not the whole story.

"I'm sorry guys," she sighed dejectedly. "It's just that I miss all the girls from the club. We became such good friends while I was there and it's weird not seeing them everyday now. I just hope that they're doing ok."

That much was certainly true. Sakura missed them more than she could say. She had even written them a letter inquiring what they were up to now that the club was closed. She had mailed it yesterday and was hoping to hear back from them soon, but knew that snail mail could take at least a week to reach Fuzen Machi.

However, it wasn't her lack of female companionship that kept her holed up in her apartment, that made her heart heavy and her insides hollow. It was a certain silver headed, porn reading, unpunctual man. Fortunately, her team seemed to accept her explanation. Naruto offered sympathy and encouragement, Sai nodded as he struggled to understand her confusing emotional state, and Sasuke placed his hand on her thigh under the table and gave it a reassuring squeeze. If it was meant to be a comforting gesture, it failed because Sakura found it not only strangely out of character for the Uchiha, but slightly invasive as well. His touch lingered a moment but when her rigid her posture did not relax, he removed his hand.

Moments later their food arrived, drawing attention away from Sakura's unusual behavior. Naruto immediately began piling pieces of raw beef and chicken on the small grill in the center of the table before once more beginning to chat endlessly about what had happened in Konoha while she was away. Sakura did her best to listen to how Naruto and Konohamaru rescued a cat from a tree but suffered significant cat-related injuries, and how Kiba had to practically tackle Akamaru when the same cat ran by and the overgrown dog gave chase. She faked a smile but feared it was no more convincing than the one Sai usually wore.

When the meat was cooked through, it was plucked from the grill with chopsticks. Sakura found herself poking half-heartedly at the food on her plate. She didn't have much of an appetite despite the meat's enticing aroma, but she forced herself to eat a piece rather than attract more unwanted attention to herself by not eating.

"Isn't this good?" Naruto exclaimed though a mouth full of food. "Although, it's not as good as ramen, which is what we should have had to eat." He fixed his disapproving blue gaze on Sasuke who had apparently vetoed eating at Ichiraku for the fourth time that week.

Sasuke shrugged, apparently uninterested in getting into a heated discussion with the blonde and continued to eat.

While Naruto went on and on about why ramen was superior to all other foods in the universe, Sakura found herself once more losing her focus. Her eyes drifted aimlessly over the other restaurant patrons as her mind turned again to thoughts of Kakashi. She had seen him only a few days prior, but it felt like ages, and the time they spent together in Fuzen Machi seemed lifetimes away. Yet she could remember perfectly the woodsy, earthy scent that always surrounded him, the feel of his thick, silver hair against her fingertips, the low rasp of his voice as he intimately whispered her name.

Her eyes fell on a man sitting at a booth across the restaurant. His back was to her and she couldn't see his face, but it was easy to imagine that the tall, sinewy body type in fact belonged to Kakashi. She could even see the wild shock of untamable hair and bad posture. It appeared her brain was so full of her former sensei that she was now seeing things.

There were two men sitting with him, their faces visible from where Sakura was sitting. To her surprise, she found that she recognized both of them as Genma Shiranui and Yamato. It didn't take long for reasoning to kick in after that. if Genma and Yamato were sitting at the table, that meant the tall, slender man sitting across from them really did have silver hair. He didn't simply look like Kakashi. He was Kakashi. She was sitting in the very same restaurant as the man who had managed to make her feel both wonderful and utterly miserable.

What little appetite she had disappeared completely as her stomach was suddenly filled with butterflies. How could he not know what he did to her? He was so calm, so oblivious, and here she was falling apart. She wished she had never noticed him sitting there so she could at least get through her meal. There was no way she could pretend to act normal now. She would be staring at him wistfully, her heart breaking as she realized that staring at him from afar like this was all she was ever going to do. Even someone like Naruto would be able to put two and two together at that point. She had to get out of here before anybody noticed she was gawking at her former sensei like a lovesick puppy.

"Sorry, but I'm not feeling very well," she mumbled, standing abruptly and digging in her pocket for a few bills that would cover her share of the meal. "I'm going to go home."

"But Sakura, you just got here," Naruto said with concern. "Are you ok?"

"I think I'm coming down with something," she replied hastily. "I should go home and rest."

As she edged out of the booth and turned to leave, Sasuke stood as well.

"I'll walk you home," he said, pulling out money for the bill as well.

Sai and Naruto looked at him quizzically as Sakura declined his offer.

"Sasuke, you've barely eaten anything. I'll be fine since my apartment isn't that far away. You should stay here."

"I'm walking you home," Sasuke repeated in a tone that left little room for argument.

The kunoichi huffed in annoyance at his stubbornness. "Fine," she said irritably before stomping out of the restaurant, being careful not to so much as glance in Kakashi's direction.

"Sakura, don't go!" Naruto called, hoping to get his friends to stay, but she didn't even turn around and Sasuke followed her out of the building and onto the street.


Sakura's goal was to walk home as fast as possible where she could take a hot shower and go to bed. Sasuke fell into step beside her and said nothing about her unnaturally fast pace. In fact, he didn't say anything at all as they walked.

It was still early enough in the evening that the main streets were bustling and noisy. Sakura waited until they turned onto a quieter and less crowded street before speaking.

"Why did you come with me? You've never bothered to walk me home before."

"I wanted to make sure you got home ok," he replied simply.

"You know I would have gotten home fine without you," Sakura shot back, taking out some of her frustrations on the stoic, black haired man.

Sasuke was quiet a moment, letting the sound of their footsteps fill the silence.

"Maybe I just wanted to spend some more time with you," he said.

His answer was so surprising that Sakura stopped in her tracks and stared at him hard.

"Spend time with me?" she said incredulously. "When we were younger you did your best to spend as little time with me as possible. In fact, I've spent most of my life trying to get you to spend time with me and you wanted nothing to do with me."

Sasuke shrugged, knowing her statement was undeniably true. "People change," he said softly. He met glistening green eyes with his own darker ones before adding, "You've changed."

Sakura definitely could not argue with that. This past mission had changed her more than she could have ever dreamed. The fact that she wasn't delirious with excitement because Sasuke was walking her home was proof of that. A few months ago she would have given her left arm for the Uchiha to say he wanted to spent time with her. Now the knowledge did little to ease the void in her heart. She had gone from being fixated on one unattainable man to another, but Kakashi had already given her so much more than Sasuke ever had.

However, she couldn't understand why Sasuke would suddenly be so interested in her. The fact that he wanted to spend time with her was perplexing and Sakura didn't feel like standing around in the darkening night trying to figure it out. She just wanted to go home and go to bed.

She turned on her heel and began walking again without giving Sasuke a response. Her lack of interest in his words seemed to surprise him because there was a pause before his footsteps resumed behind her.

They emerged from the small street squeezed between the sides of tall buildings out into the open. Ahead of them was one of the many bridges that crossed the river that flowed through Konoha. All the color had bled from the sky, leaving it inky black. Stars shimmered in the darkness. Sakura had missed seeing stars at night. They weren't visible through the cloudy gloom in Fuzen Machi.

"You don't have to go home yet," Sasuke suddenly said as their footsteps turned hollow as they stepped onto the bridge. "You could come over and talk about whatever it is that's bothering you."

Sakura had known Sasuke practically her whole life and never once had he invited her to the Uchiha compound. Her instincts told her that this was more than one friend trying to cheer up another. She got the feeling that he wanted her to spend the night, to share his bed. This is what she had spent countless nights dreaming about. Now all she could picture was how it had felt laying next to Kakashi and how she'd never get to experience that again.

"What is your deal?" she hissed, turning around and fixing angry green eyes on him. "Why the sudden interest in me? You've had over a decade where you could have had me at any time and now that I'm no longer interested, you won't leave me alone. Why? Is it because you saw me dance on a pole and suddenly I'm worthy of your attention? Is it because I wear a little makeup now and know how to curl my hair? What is it Sasuke? Because you sure as hell weren't interested in me before I left."

His dark eyes widened at her outburst. He had seen her lose her temper with Sai and Naruto countless times but it was rare when she turned her wrath on him. However, in all that she said, one thing stood out that might flaw his otherwise perfect plan.

"You''re no longer interested?" he asked in surprise, hardly able to believe that after all her years of pining, she no longer had the slightest romantic interest in him.

Sakura took a deep breath, keeping her gaze steady. "No, Sasuke. I'm not. I don't have room in my heart for you anymore."

He could hardly believe what he was hearing. Here was the girl who had offered to betray her own village just to be near him. She had chased him endlessly to the point where he thought he would never be rid of her. Now that she had matured, had turned into this mysterious, alluring, sexy woman, she didn't want him anymore. She wanted someone older, someone who was unknowingly within her reach. His only chance was that she never know Kakashi in fact felt the same.

"Why him?" he asked in frustration. "Kakashi is too old for you and doesn't return your feelings. Whatever happened between you two on the mission is over."

Now it was Sakura's turn to be surprised. Her mouth dropped open as she gasped, "you knew?"

"Of course I knew. I'd have to blind not to see the way you were always looking at him. It's the way you always looked at me. It took me a while to see it Sakura but you're just what I need. We could rebuild my clan together. You don't have a future with Kakashi, but I'm offering you one with me."

Sakura could only stare at him blankly as her mind scrambled to process all he was saying. He had known this whole time that she cared for Kakashi even though she had tried to be discreet. She didn't know how he knew Kakashi didn't feel the same, but if he had read her own emotions so easily, maybe he had read his as well. What Sasuke was offering her now had been her childhood dream, a happily ever after with the love of her life. But it was ironic and almost cruel how her dream had changed and the love of her life was no longer the man standing before her. She had come to see that Sasuke was no Prince Charming. He had betrayed the village, betrayed his friends. He hurt the ones who cared about him in his own selfish quest for vengeance. While Sakura had forgiven him, she would never forget what he had done and would always wonder where his loyalties truly were.

She didn't think she could be with another man now without thinking about Kakashi, how the way he had touched her had been so perfect, how he had made her feel beautiful. It wasn't fair to either Sasuke or herself to settle when she would always long for another. She wouldn't be able to forget about the Copy nin, not when he lived in the very same village.

"Sasuke, it's too late," she said. "I don't want to be with you anymore. I can't, not after him."

"But you can forget about him," Sasuke assured, frustration creeping into his voice as he realized it might not be as easy as he thought it would be to attain what he desired. "I can make you forget. Just give me a night. He can't offer you anything more, but I can Sakura. I'm the better choice."

The way Sasuke seemed to break down her future into a simple academic choice made something inside her snap. It wasn't about who could best improve her social status or who's genes would produce the best offspring. How could she make this a simple decision of the mind when so much of it had to do with her heart? Sasuke was trying to manipulate her, and she wondered how much of it was for his own personal gain. She didn't think the Uchiha loved her now and she didn't think he ever would and it angered her that a relationship and eventual marriage was more of a business deal to him than a love affair.

"I could never forget about him," she snapped. "I love him. Even if he doesn't love me back, I will keep on loving him because I have no choice! It's going to hurt like hell seeing him around the village, knowing he doesn't feel the same, but I'm not going to lie to myself, Sasuke. I don't love you anymore and I don't want anything from you."

She watched as his eyes widened, dark eyes full of surprise and something else. Defeat? Disappointment? She thought it was because of her harsh words and felt a flash of triumph as she finally nailed shut the coffin containing her irrational childhood feelings. But then she felt a familiar presence behind her and thoughts of her victory were immediately wiped from her mind as she slowly turned around.


Sasuke couldn't believe what he was hearing. This was the girl who would have done anything for him and now that he was offering her what she had always wanted, she was turning him down without a second thought.

She used to be so predictable, so easy to manipulate. Where had this strong, confident woman come from? He ordinarily would have considered this a challenge, a battle to fight, a prize to win, but he did not want to bide his time. He wanted her. Tonight. The sooner he claimed her, the sooner he could satiate his lust. He also would no longer have to worry about Kakashi. Once the Copy nin heard that she had run back into her crush's arms, he would accept defeat easily.

But Sakura seemed inconvincible. She said she didn't want him now, or ever, a powerful statement coming from one who used to spend every waking hour pining for him. She poured out her love for her former sensei with surprising passion and conviction. He could only gawk at this woman who had become a perfect stranger to him, who had changed in ways he'd probably never understand.

And just as her rant ended, a figure flickered into existence behind her. Sasuke's heart sank as he realized the man standing behind her had heard it all and had used a teleportation jutsu to come to her. In Sasuke's conquest, he had managed to make Sakura confess how she felt. Neither of them had known the object of her affection had been in earshot. The Uchiha had inadvertently brought them together, not pushed them apart as he had planned. The surprised look on the silver haired man's face, the glimmer of hope he saw in those dark eyes proved that he was going to confront her, and there was nothing Sasuke could do. He had lost.


Sakura turned, knowing who she would find behind her, but unable to believe it. He was here.

His mask was in place but she could still see the intensity in his single eye, as he met her gaze.

"K-Kakashi," she stammered, knowing he had heard everything she had said. He knew now that she was madly, foolishly in love with him. Would he chastise her for becoming emotionally involved when it was only supposed to be physical, a simple training exercise that had gone too far? Would things become awkward and more estranged than they already were? Her heart banged against her ribcage as she waited for what seemed like an eternity for him to speak.

"Did you mean what you said? Do you really love me?" he whispered, his voice raspy, full of breathless disbelief.

Sakura couldn't lie to him anymore than she could lie to Sasuke or herself. She told him the truth.

"I love you more than I have ever loved anything or anyone," she replied softly, her green eyes searching his. "And I don't care if you hate me for it. I can't stop, Kakashi. I'll never stop."

A beat of silence passed. Everything in the world seemed to hold its breath, the crickets, the merry people just a few blocks away, even the whispering wind went completely still.

"Good," Kakashi said. "Because I'm never letting you go."

In one fluid motion, he jerked down his mask, took her into his arms and crushed his lips to hers. In a kneejerk reaction she pushed away, thoughts haunted by a yellow eyed man who had done the same thing to her. Kakashi looked at her, uncovered face full of hurt and confusion and Sakura longed for a chance to kill Koudo herself for scarring her so deeply.

"I'm sorry!" she blurted, rushing to amend her actions. "It's just that I still...sometimes I remember how he touched me..."

Understanding dawned on the Copy nin's face as he realized how grabbing her so suddenly could have traumatized her. He wordlessly held out his hand and let her come to him, encircling her gently in his arms and kissing her lips with a touch that was feather light.

Sakura responded, taking the lead and deepening the kiss, clinging to him with a sort of desperation as if she were afraid he might disappear at any moment.

Neither of them noticed when Sasuke stuffed his hands in his pockets and stalked away, all his plans of sharing his bed with the kunoichi now nothing more than dust. It wasn't often that the Uchiha lost, and he would sulk over this defeat for some time.

None of that mattered to the couple on the bridge. They were aware of only each other, elated that the one they thought was out of reach was now in his and her grasp. Kakashi brought a hand up to cup Sakura's jaw and found her skin damp. When his lips left hers and he pulled away, he saw that tears had cut glimmering tracks down her face.

"Don't cry," he whispered, wiping the moisture away with his thumb. "I'm here now, you don't have to cry."

Sakura sniffled softly, unable to stop the transformation back into her old crybaby self.

"How did you know to follow me? I thought you were eating dinner with your friends."

"I was," he replied. "But then I heard Naruto call your name and I looked up just in time to see you leave. Sasuke was following you and...well...I didn't like the way he was looking at you. It was just a hunch, but I followed the two of you. I guess it's a good thing I did."

A smile graced Sakura's lips. "You didn't like the way he was looking at me?" she teased. "What are you, my father?"

"No," Kakashi replied quickly, giving her a sheepish smile of his own. "It's just that...I didn't want to share you, even though you weren't even mine."

Sakura reached up to thread her fingers through wiry strands of silver, tugging him back down to her level.

"I've been yours ever since that first night you taught me how to dance," she said softly, before initiating another kiss. It was long and tender, and when they parted, Kakashi couldn't help but chuckle.

"I guess that makes both of us fools for hiding how we really feel. I might have gone my whole life without knowing the girl of my dreams felt the same way."

He gave her a rare smile that made her knees weak and her stomach flutter. The nervous butterflies in her stomach became increasingly restless as he whispered in her ear, "Stay with me tonight. I don't want to be alone."

She should have agreed without hesitation, but she could only guess what would happen in his apartment once they got there. She wanted nothing more than to be with Kakashi in every sense of the word, but the memories of Koudo's assault were still fresh in her mind and she wasn't sure if she was ready for another to touch her, even if it was Kakashi. She averted her eyes, ashamed to have to bare her physiological scars.

"I...I don't know if I'm ready for anything physical," she replied reluctantly. "I don't know when I'll be ready, and if that means you'd rather not be with me, I understand because-"

She was abruptly silenced by a finger pressed to her lips.

"Sakura, if you think I'd walk away from you because you don't want to have sex, then you really are a fool."

He tilted her chin up and Sakura found his uncovered eye warm and sincere.

"I'll wait as long as it takes for you to feel comfortable with physical touch again, and if that day never comes, so be it. I'd rather have you in my arms than not have you at all. That being said, will you let me at least hold you tonight?"

Sakura had to blink back the joyful tears that threatened to fall. Nothing could have reassured her more than the very words Kakashi had spoken. He didn't want her for the sex, and while that was a wonderful way of showing his love for her, he chose to be with her even if she wouldn't be able to give him physical pleasure.

"Of course," she replied, allowing him to weave her fingers with his. She couldn't help but notice how each digit seemed to fill the spaces between his perfectly. All her fear and trepidation seemed to leave her at once, leaving her bubbling with joy, relief and sheer amazement that her fairy tale was coming true.

The fell into step, side by side as Kakashi led her back to his apartment.

"It's like a Happily Ever After," Sakura said, more to herself than to her former sensei.

Kakashi gave another chuckle as he tugged his mask back into place with his free hand.

"Yes it is, except that this isn't the end of the story. People will talk about us you know. The fact that I'm dating my former student who is practically half my age is going to cause quite a stir."

"Let them talk," Sakura replied, shooting him a look full of fire and defiance that epitomized her strong will and fighting spirit. In that moment, Kakashi couldn't help but love her even more. "There have been bigger scandals than this in Konoha and if people don't like seeing us together than too bad. I'm not a child and I've made my choice. I'm going to be with you no matter what people say."

She gave a definitive nod as if to say there would be no further argument on the matter and Kakashi smiled under his mask at her stubbornness. He had no doubt that this attitude would allow her to ignore whatever gossip came her way, letting unkind comments roll off her back like water off a duck's feather. She was tough, and she was beautiful, and now she was all his.

He thanked whatever gods above for delivering her to him, for giving this tired old man something to live for. He gave her hand a squeeze as they walked through moonlit streets, knowing that a dark chapter had closed on both of their lives. The next one would be brighter, happier, because they would be writing it together.


News of Kakashi and his former student spread quickly. Their relationship was no secret, and while some people shook their heads at first, nobody could dispute the love in Kakashi's eye when he looked at her nor her expression of pure adoration when she was with him. Tsunade had simply said it was about time for them to get together. She had known the minute they had walked into her office that something was brewing between them, but had decided not to interfere and let them sort it out themselves. She neither forbade nor frowned upon their relationship. In fact, she seemed to encourage it, constantly asking Sakura when Kakashi was going to sell his tiny apartment and simply move in with her.

Naruto and Sai were much more surprised by the development. The Kyuubi container of course pointed a finger at the older man and called him a pervert while wondering how his lovely, pure Sakura could have fallen so far. But once he got over his initial shock, he came to accept their unusual coupling when he saw how much happier they both seemed to be now that they were with each other.

Sasuke of course seldom spoke to either one of them unless it was necessary. Missions and training with the stubborn Uchiha were often strained, but Sakura figured he would come around eventually, and if he didn't, that was just too bad. If he wanted to mope over a bruised ego, than so be it.

About a month after Sakura sent a letter to Fuzen Machi, she received a reply. Miyabi had written a lengthy letter in her elegant handwriting, saying that everyone was doing well and none of them had decided to move away. Their family had become too tightly knit for any of them to strike out on their own, even if it meant staying in Fuzen Machi. As she read the letter, her fingers touched the sakura blossom at her neck. She wore the trinket often now unless she was sparring or in the shower. It was the only piece of jewelry she wore and it reminded her of the friends she had left behind.

Surprisingly, they had turned the club into a high end restaurant with a burlesque theme. Selling off Dajaku and Tsurenai's possessions had earned them enough money to put in a large kitchen where the dressing room used to be and of course, buy all the girls the necessities they had been lacking. Miyabi and Tora had cooked themselves at first, but they had ended up hiring a young man who was absolutely a master in the kitchen. Kitsune still performed, but this time she kept her clothes on and was actually in the process of perfecting her singing voice so her show would include songs as well. Misaki, Jitsu and Aiya had been the servers but their restaurant had grown so successful that they hired on more a few more girls and even a couple of guys part time. The establishment was apparently slightly risqué but still very posh and one of the nicest places in town. Crime bosses, elite shinobi and even wealthy travelers frequented the building, which they'd renamed Cloud Nine. Some had confessed that they'd come to town exclusively to eat at the new restaurant, which proved how famous their eatery had become. In fact, they had accumulated enough money that they were planning on closing down next month to completely renovate the place. The lap dance booths would be torn out and replaced with a champagne room, and new lighting and decor would be added.

Miyabi said that while they were all doing well and were happier than ever, they all missed Sakura terribly and wanted her to come visit the first chance she got and to bring Kakashi with her. Sakura intended to do so as soon as a mission took her that way or she got a lengthy amount of vacation. She was thrilled that they had risen above the horrible situation Dajaku had put them in and made something wonderful out of it. Those girls were strong and they would make it through.

Enclosed with her letter had been two separate envelopes, one for Yamato and one for Sai. The handwriting told Sakura who the authors of the letters were and she smiled. It seemed her shinobi friends had left lasting impressions on one who supposedly hated men, and one who liked men a little too much. Though she was curious, she didn't read the letters and passed Tora's on to Yamato and Kitsune's to Sai. Neither would disclose what had been written but both had worn genuine smile. She wondered if she wasn't the only one who wanted to visit Fuzen Machi soon.


Kakashi awoke, knowing it was still early since the morning light had not yet turned from gray to pink. Sakura's warm body was molded to his, giving him a sense of peace that he'd never known. Her breath was slow and even, signaling she was still asleep, and Kakashi allowed himself the moment to watch her slumber.

Life with Sakura was bliss and he found himself loving her more everyday, but it was not without its problems. Even six months after their return, she was still sometimes skittish. She had improved monumentally, her nightmares now a rare occurrence. The night he had finally confessed, they had fallen asleep in each other's arms, only to awaken when a nightmare sent her into a panic. He had found himself pinned on his back, the kunoichi atop him with a kunai at his throat. When she realized wheat she had almost done, she dropped the weapon and dissolved into tears, blubbering that perhaps they shouldn't be together after all if she was going to possibly cause him harm. Kakashi had consoled her, saying he refused to give her up and she had eventually gone back to sleep, but it was only the first of many incidents where she awoke, sometimes screaming, after a haunting nightmare where yellow-eyed men chased her.

He could only imagine the demons that tormented his love, and the worst part was he had been there when it all happened and he had walked away, convinced she was with Kudou by her own free will. Guilt plagued the Copy nin as he watched Sakura suffer and he wished there was more that he could do. He felt powerless, unable to do more than hold her when she needed it and give her space when requested.

As far as physical intimacy, they had done little more than kiss, although sometimes they showered together. He would lather every inch of her, but his touch was always more sensual than sexual. He was a patient man, and though he wanted to make love to her, he was content to have her in his life at all, and understood that her emotional healing was far more important than his physical wants.

At times it was incredibly difficult. One night he had peeked in her closet to bring her a shirt after her shower and had discovered the myriad of outfits she had worn at the club. She had brought all of them with her back to Konoha, the orange and black one, the obnoxiously pink one with metal rings, and his favorite, the sexy little red number that she had given him a lap dance in. There were even outfits in there he hadn't even seen! Just the sight of the provocative clothing was enough to make him hard, and he longed for Sakura to try each one on in turn and dance for him so he could then remove each outfit piece by piece and completely ravish her. He hoped that one day, his fantasy of Sakura playing dress up for him would become a reality, but he knew that suggesting such a thing now was out of the question. For now, he would have to wait.

Little by little, she made progress and the nightmares began to subside. He could hug her from behind without her jumping in fright. He could coax her out of her shirt and lavish those perfect breasts with the affection they deserved. At the four month mark, he suggested a massage and she reluctantly agreed. She lay facedown, naked on his bed as he straddled her hips and began to knead the tension out of her body. It reminded him of the events that had transpired in his motel room when an innocent message had turned naughty, when he had seduced his mission partner even though they had professed to try and keep things professional.

This time, his touches were only therapeutic, his hands working the knots out of her muscles until she began to melt beneath her fingertips. When she was finally relaxed, he asked her to turn over, and it was then that he tried to establish a more intimate connection. He kissed her smiling lips, then her neck, then her breasts, delighting in the timid little moans that escaped her. His loving caresses were so tender, so full of love, that they could not be mistaken for the rough pawing of her attacker.

He kissed over her flat belly, to shapely hips and could feel her tense as his hands smoothed over her thighs. He looked up to find an expression in her eyes akin to fear, and it hurt him to know that something that should have been wonderful had been so thoroughly tainted for her.

He had stopped his touches there, knowing she was still not yet ready, and though his own arousal throbbed for her, he pushed aside his own frustration and simply held her, hoping that one day soon she would finally come around.

Two months had passed since then and while there had been similar experiences, their physical relationship had not yet progressed. Kakashi looked at her now, peacefully asleep, long pink hair spilling across the pillow, and wanted nothing more than to heal her, to make all her scars fade away. He loved her so damn much that his heart ached and his greatest desire was not to simply make love to her, but to let her experience the joy and pleasure of physical love without fear or pain.

He pressed maskless lips to her cheek, then her neck, and was rewarded with a soft murmur as her eyes fluttered open.

"Good morning," he rasped huskily shifting to climb atop her so he could kiss the skin just below her ear.

"Good morning," she replied with a smile, her small hands spreading across his bare back.

This wasn't the first time he had woken her in such a way. He often showered her with kisses first thing in the morning. He would kiss her neck, her breasts, her stomach, and it all felt so good, but Sakura had not yet felt comfortable with going any further. Images of Koudo still haunted her and she wasn't sure if she could allow Kakashi to touch her without being reduced to a panic.

But today there was no fear like there had once been when he kissed over milky skin. There was only love and adoration for the handsome man caressing her body. His eyes were not yellow, but mismatched orbs full of emotions mirroring her own. He was her prince in a world where fairy tales never came true and she didn't know what she would do without him.

Nimble fingers inched the simple camisole up her torso and over her head and soon his mouth had latched on to one rounded breast, sucking and licking until the nipple was swollen and fully distended. Sakura mewled softly as he switched breasts, coaxing her body to respond to his ministrations. He flicked his tongue playfully over the pebbled bud, sending tingling pleasure down her spine and she arched against him automatically.

A familiar heat pooled between her thighs as he nibbled and licked her soft, flawless globes. She had felt such arousal countless times since their relationship in Konoha began, but fear had always outweighed the promise of blissful orgasm.

He kissed down her stomach, watched taunt abdominals flex in response as his tongue played over the smooth skin. He dipped into her navel, making her giggle before moving even lower where she had allowed a thatch of curly pink hair to grow back now that she was no longer dancing.

He sensed her body stiffen momentarily and looked up to find her biting her lip nervously, big green eyes watching him explore the planes of her body. While she was still timid, she seemed more relaxed today than she had been in the past, and decided that today he could perhaps push her a little.

"Trust me," he whispered and she had reluctantly nodded, seeming as determined as he was to overcome her fear of touch. "Tell me if you want me to stop, and I will," he said, "but I want you to give this a try. I want you to know that you don't have to be afraid. Nobody can hurt you now."

"I know," Sakura replied softly, wanting more than anything to embrace her lover's touch without panic or terror. "Just...just be gentle, ok?"

"Of course," he rasped, having every intention to be just that.

Their eyes remained locked as he slid silky panties down her legs and brought a single finger to her opening, finding her slick and warm. He whispered for her to relax as his digit played over her swollen clit, making her tremble and squirm as he teased her with gentle touches. Soon she was trembling with need but it was only when she asked him to that he pushed inside her perfect heat.

She was even tighter than he remembered, her body gripping him with incredible strength as he began to slowly pump in and out. He watched her arch and writhe, watched her hands grip the sheets, watched those green eyes fill with wonder as she was reacquainted with the pleasure that one person could give another.

Her thick scent was so intoxicating that he couldn't help the need to taste her. He positioned his face between her legs while still moving his finger inside her and sealed his mouth over her swollen pearl. His tongue flicked her clit in rhythm with his thrusts and soon her hands were tangled in his silvery hair as her hips bucked frantically against his mouth. He had missed this so very much, and actually tasting her again made the mere memories of her pale shadows by comparison. She was just as responsive as the first time he touched her and he delighted in every trembling moan. He encouraged her, spoke to her softly and soothed her with his voice so that she would know beyond a doubt that it was not Koudo forcing himself upon her, but a man that loved her without parallel.

Sakura's initial trepidation slowly melted away, and soon her worries were all but forgotten as Kakashi's skilled tongue and fingers worked over her sex, both inside and out. She had forgotten how amazing it felt to have his head wedged between her thighs to feel him licking her most intimate place while long, slender digits slid into her dripping core. She was not the blushing virgin she had been the first time she had done this, but she couldn't help but feel like it was her first time all over again. Every sensation seemed new, and she couldn't fight the soft, feminine moans that kept falling from her lips.

He pleasured her with slow licks, building her up gradually, making sure he was always gentle. He felt her body tense and looked up just in time to watch her fall apart, her mouth opening in a silent scream as her eyes squeezed shut. Feminine muscles clenched around his intruding finger as her body shuddered and Kakashi groaned as a gush of sweet liquid covered his tongue. Her nectar was like honey, ambrosia he could not get enough of, He continued to lick her softly, fingers thrusting slowly to help her ride through the aftershocks as he gently brought her down from her high. She was panting hard, her brow damp with sweat, but her expression was one of complete contentment, a satisfied smile already forming on her face. That dreamy smile made all the months of waiting worthwhile. He knew that not a trace of fear was residing in her mind. She wasn't thinking of what another man had wrongly done to her, but of Kakashi and how he had just pleasured her senseless.

Only when her shivering had subsided did the Copy nin withdraw, sliding up her body so he could, gather her in his arms and hold her close. He wasn't sure what to expect from her but he was surprised when she began to cry, not great, wailing sobs but soft sniffles and tears that dampened his bare chest.

"Sakura, what's the matter? Did I do something wrong?" he asked, voice laced with concern. Perhaps she had not been as ready for this as he had thought and he had pushed her too hard, too fast.

She shook her head and assured him that her tears weren't a bad thing.

"I'm ok," she said. "And you didn't do anything wrong. It was wonderful, Kakashi. I'd forgotten that I could even feel like that. I guess I'm just so happy, so relieved that I don't have to be afraid anymore...I just couldn't hold in the tears. I guess even after all this time, I'm still kind of a crybaby."

She looked up at him with those impossibly green eyes, now wet and glimmering like the surface of the sea and he couldn't help but drown in them, be pulled to her until he was kissing her. She kissed back with surprising passion as tears continued to leak from her eyes, her emotional release accompanying the physical.

Even as she sniffled, her hands found their way between them to the cord of his drawstring pants. She tugged at the knot impatiently and Kakashi broke the kiss to look at her questioningly.

"Sakura? You don't have to do this if you're not ready. We can-"

"No, I want to," she said, cutting him off. "I want to remember what it feels like to have you inside me. I don't want to wait anymore, so please..."

Kakashi searched those pleading eyes and could see the need reflected there. There was no way he could deny such a request.

"Ok," he whispered, rising off of her just long enough to tug his pants down over his hips and off his legs. "But tell me if I'm going too fast or if you want me to stop."

Sakura nodded as he covered her body with hers once more. Her thighs parted as their pelvises aligned and she gasped when the blunt head of his member brushed against slick, feminine petals.

"Are you ready?" he asked, dark eyes locking on hers as he hovered above her, poised to enter.

"Yes," she answered, wanting nothing more than to be filled by him.

He pushed forward slowly, breath rushing from his lungs as he exhaled. Her body immediately welcomed him, silky folds enveloping him into a wonderfully warm paradise. She was still so incredibly tight. Her body undulated around him so perfectly that he couldn't contain a soft groan.

Sakura arched responsively as she felt him slowly sink inside her, stretching her, filling her. Her body was already tingling with pleasure and he hadn't even begun to move. She remained gazing into Kakashi's mismatched eyes and could see so much love and passion and desire in them, that fresh tears began to leak from her eyes. This man would never hurt her. He would do anything for her, and she was safe with him. The one who she had though was out of reach was now by her side, and she wanted nothing more than to be united with him in this moment. his body interlocked with hers.

"Are you ok," he asked, seeing another tear cut a wet trail down her cheek.

She nodded, her lips curving into a soft smile. "Yes. I just never thought we would be together like this, that you could ever love me."

Kakashi shared her smile. "I do love you Sakura, more than anything, and I'm not going anywhere."

He began to move in slow strokes, bracing his hands on either side of her head as he worked his body against hers. She moaned and shivered beneath him, hands wandering restlessly over his muscled back. Her sex alternately clenched and loosened around him, massaging his thrusting length and forcing more strained groans from the normally composed man.

He dropped his head into the crook of her neck, pressing soft kisses against the graceful slope of her shoulder. His rhythm was slow, unwavering, gradually building her up as he gently thrust forward and withdrew. He could feel her growing wetter, her desire coating him and aiding him in sliding effortlessly along her silky inner walls.

Sakura wrapped her arms around her lover and help him tightly as his lips dusted kisses along her neck. His pelvis dragged over her sensitive clit with every thrust, sending pleasure racing along her spine. She gasped his name and trembled beneath him, no longer afraid of this wonderful intimate act. Kuodo and his employer couldn't hurt her anymore. She was back home among friends, the mission completed and the dancers saved.

Every thrust took her farther away from reality and soon there was only Kakashi and his chiseled body, his breath over her skin and his thick member inside her. Nothing else, mattered, only the pleasure and the passion between them.

She continued to call his name, her voice growing high and desperate. Kakashi was drunk on her voice, her scent. He continued to move against her slowly, savoring the feeling of sliding in and out of her perfect body. He could sense she was close to climax and so was he. He lifted his head so he could once against watch her lovely face as he shifted his hips to rub more fully against her clit with every movement.

The kunoichi cried out as the world began to dissolve. Colors flashed across her vision as Kakashi grinded against her sensitive pearl. Her body squeezed his length mercilessly as intense contractions wracked her body. Wave after wave of pleasure passed through her, stringing her body taunt as orgasm overtook her. Emerald eyes squeezed shut and coherent thought left her, aware only of how damn good Kakashi could make her feel.

The Copy nin watched her fall apart, grunting softly as feminine muscles clamped down on him with incredible strength. He whispered encouragements, telling her how beautiful she was when she came. He watched her features, contorted with pleasure as strands of pink hair stuck to her damp forehead.

The sight of her in such rapture and the feel of her convulsing around him sent him over the brink to join her. He growled her name as molten heat coursed through him, burning his nerve endings as equally hot liquid rushed along his member to fill her womb. He shuddered as he filled her, his release splashing against satin walls. All his strength seemed to leave him at once and he sagged against her, rolling to the side and drawing her trembling body with him. He held her as she gradually floated down to earth and stroked a comforting hand over her body in the afterglow.

She looked up at him with a mischievous smile, one he hadn't seen since their return to Konoha. Love for this woman welled up inside his chest and threatened to burst. She was so beautiful, and despite the odds, all his, the missing piece to fill the hole in his soul.

He pressed a kiss to her forehead whispering the three little words that held such tremendous meaning, and when she whispered them back, his heart took flight, so filled with joy that it could not stay grounded.

He thanked whoever it was that had seen fit to give this tired old man something to live for, because he was quite sure he did not deserve it. He swore that no matter what obstacles lay ahead of them, he would never ever let his cheery blossom go.

Sakura lay her head against Kakashi's chest as their hands found each other, fingers intertwining against the mussed sheets. A smile tugged at her lips as she thought that if someone told her a year ago that she would be in her former sensei's arms, she would have admitted that person for psychiatric evaluation. Yet here she was, wrapped up in muscles arms of her silver haired lover, Sasuke the farthest thing from her mind. She had never been so happy and this was only the beginning. She wondered if Tsunade could have ever guessed the turn of events following assigning them to the same mission.

She had been through so much with this man. He had seen her in her strongest moments and her weakest. He saw what was beneath her exterior, saw her stripped bare of the shell she had carefully constructed for herself. He had seen her at her most vulnerable, most fragile, and he had not broken her. And above all, despite all her imperfections and flaws, he still loved her, and she him, and that in itself was a gift greater than any she could ever hope to find.

She snuggled closer to Kakashi and sighed in contentment, knowing she had another hour or two before she had to get up for her hospital shift. Morning light spilled over their nude bodies, highlighting their flushed pink skin. Sakura could hope it was only one of many mornings they would spend entangled in each other's arms.


First of all, thank you to all my readers who have gone on this journey with me for the past two and a half years. This fic has over 3000 reviews. 3000! It boggles my mind that so many people have not only read this, but took the time to comment on it. This story would have never gotten finished without all of your encouragement.

Thank you to my betas who tell me honestly when my writing sucks and graciously help me fix it. Sometimes it's a long, long process and I appreciate it.

Thank you Masashi Kishimoto for creating such a colorful world of characters. You have inspired so many people to write stories of their own that take place in your world. All I'm asking is that you make Kaka/Saku cannon. Please? Pretty please?